Don't make these common mistakes in your online business.
As someone who launched an e-commerce business in the United States just a few years ago (and one in Britain too), selling products that not many people knew a lot about back then (e-cigarettes), I'm often asked how to steer clear of the many hurdles of e-tailing to drive what has become a multimillion-dollar business.
After all, there's a lot to be wary of. Just setting up a simple e-commerce website, hoping it will be flooded with customers and that your business will be a huge success, is something of a pipe dream. Running an online business is certainly not a case of sitting back, relaxing and waiting for the dollars to come flowing in. It's just like running a bricks-and-mortar business and takes a lot of specialist knowledge, as well as outside help, to make it a success.
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Here are the top perils and pitfalls of online retailing and my tips for avoiding them in your own e-store.
1. Product obsession
Many businesspeople who are selling online, as well as in the physical world, obsess about their products. While this is only natural, and you certainly want to offer the best you can, it's all too easy to get caught up in them. When running an online operation, I've found that it's essential to devote just as much time to the actual website itself. Just like a store you walk into, if an online shop is not attractive and doesn't function well, it won't matter how great your products are, as visitors won't stick around long enough to see them.
Personnel are expensive, and one of the key advantages of running an e-commerce site is that you don't need anywhere near as many as you would in the physical world – no cashiers, store clerks, customer care assistants, cleaners, security or any other kind of staff that drastically eat into profits. This is what allows online stores to have incredibly low overheads and, therefore, offer great prices to customers. Don't jeopardize this by thinking you need to hire lots of people for your site, when you can really get away with the bare minimum and still become a sleek, efficient and highly profitable business.
3. Not using outside help
Just like with a physical retail business, you don't have to be an expert in every single aspect of running an online business. You will, of course, have your key expertise and critical passion for what you're doing, but you certainly can't be expected to know it all. The great thing about the digital era is that it opens up a whole world of online services for businesses – everything from accounting to search engine optimization – for an affordable cost that will let you focus on the most important thing: running your business. However, I've found that it pays to at least know something about the area you're outsourcing; otherwise, you won't really know what you're paying for or if the work is being done to a high standard. Make sure you do some research before you sign up.
4. Website maintenance
Just like a store in a busy town or city, a website needs a lot of care and attention if it's going to succeed and drive your business forward. Don't make the mistake of building a shiny new website and expecting it to stay shiny; websites, like physical stores, need constant polishing. This is especially true in the fast-paced digital world, where new web technologies are coming in all the time and the diktats of Google mean you have to make rapid changes or risk your business suffering.
Running an e-commerce site today requires a lot of focus, but there are big profits for those who give their sites the time and attention they deserve.